New Zealand Superintendent of the New Zealand and Australia Land Co., pioneer of scientific farming methods, founder of the dairy industry.
A new biography of Brydone, Thomas appears in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography on this site.
Thomas Brydone, born at West Linton, Peebleshire, Scotland, was removed at an early age with his parents to Blair Athol. He received his education at the Perth Academy. After leaving school Brydone worked for two years in the office of Mr Dickson, a commissioner appointed to inquire into the means of financing landlords into improving their estates by drainage. He was then successively land steward to the Earl of Buchan, at Roxburn, West Lothian, and to the Duke of Hamilton. He became travelling inspector for the West of England Land Co., where he moved in close contact with the latest schemes of land development, and with early experiments at scientific farming. For a short time he acted as factor in Lord Falmouth's Kent estate, before returning to Roxburn, where oil had been recently discovered. In 1866 he became a partner in Young's Paraffin Oil Co.; however, his prospects here were soon blighted by American competition.
The old New Zealand and Australia Land Co. in 1867 advertised for a superintendent for their New Zealand holdings. Brydone applied and took up the appointment, arriving in Dunedin in 1868. He was located at Totara, North Otago, and quickly settled down to applying his experience of scientific farm management to such effect that in a few years his methods had turned the company's neglected estates into a going concern. His success drew the attention and unqualified praise of W. S. Davidson, who was then managing the Levels run for the Canterbury and Otago Association, with the consequence that when the two companies amalgamated in 1877, Brydone was appointed to succeed Davidson as New Zealand superintendent of the joint concern. This post he held until his death. In his collaboration with Davidson (then General Manager of the Company in Edinburgh), Brydone handled the New Zealand arrangements for the preparation and loading of the first shipment of frozen meat from New Zealand in 1882.
When it became apparent that the company's Southland estates were uneconomic, Brydone (1881–82) suggested dairying. The company approved the experiment, and Brydone established New Zealand's first dairy factory on the company's Edendale estate, which initially exported cheese, with butter making a later development. Brydone also pioneered the use of lime and artificial manures. He played a great part in the Otago A. and P. Society, being a foundation member, a governor of the society and four times president. In addition, he was a founder-director of the New Zealand Refrigerating Co., as well as a director of the Milburn Lime and Cement Co., and of the Kaitangata Railway and Coal Co. He was also a promoter of the Agricultural Hall Co., as well as of several dredging companies. In May 1898, on the eve of a trip to England, the A. and P. Society presented Brydone with a gold medal of life membership, and a handsome illuminated address honouring his services to New Zealand agriculture. Brydone sailed for England on 1 April 1904, in order to obtain medical advice about an internal complaint which had troubled him for some months. He died suddenly in Edinburgh on 17 June 1904, and on the news of his death reaching New Zealand the flags on all Dunedin business firms were lowered to half mast.
Brydone's early English and Scottish experience in land development fitted him well for the role he played in New Zealand agriculture. His close cooperation with Davidson to a large extent has blurred their respective parts, with Brydone, the man on the spot, collecting the greater part of the credit. His part in the first shipment of frozen meat was a subsidiary one, but in dairying he was indeed father of the industry. The butter and cheese industries owe him eternal thanks for his foresight and energy. In addition to his labours for the company, he threw a large amount of well-directed energy into agricultural societies, and into Dunedin mercantile firms, but his greatest contribution was undoubtedly his pioneer use of artificial manures, particularly lime. Of his use of it on the Edendale estate, the Evening Star, Dunedin, wrote in his obituary: “He redeemed it with lime, and turned a waste into a garden.”
A cairn now stands on top of Sebastopol Hill, Totara, to commemorate Brydone's work.
by Bernard John Foster, M.A., Research Officer, Department of Internal Affairs, Wellington.
- Davidson and Brydone, Founders of the New Zealand Meat Export Industry, Hewland, P. D. (1958)
- Otago Daily Times, 21 Jun 1904 (Obit)
- Southland Times, 21 Jun 1904 (Obit)
- Evening Star, (Dunedin) 20 Jun 1904 (Obit).